Read In Your Language

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Happy 50th Birthday Graffiti!

In 1967 a kid from North Philly went out and started writing on walls so that he could get at a girl. Like most of what guys do, right? If it weren't for women, most guys would shower maybe once or twice a week. Lol (not me, of course...) But it was this simple act of tryin to get at the fairer sex that  launched a cultural phenomenon.

That was 50 years ago this year! Happy Birthday Graffiti! CORNBREAD, the kid from Brewerytown, North Philly, that started it all, started writing on walls in September of 1967. Altho he officially started taggin in 1965 in reform school, we will take it from the time he started rockin in the plain view of the general public. (this discussed in our movie, "Taggin Ass city", now available in the store, or here.) So, Happy Birthday graffiti!

In the past 50 years graffiti has progressed from what gang members used to use to mark territory to a full fledged art form. It amazes me that the movement du jour started out as some strait gangster shit. It's usually how it happens tho; the common man sparks an idea, someone sees it and finds value. For the kid in the street its a way to get fame. For others, its a full on career. That value is found in the people who use it.

Graffiti for some has been the first major achievements in life. That first taste of  public acclaim has inspired some to move forward in other areas. I think that's a part of its allure. It's the first reality show. People watch in real time the exploits of graffiti writers and the places they've traveled in a bid to stay watched. In many ways, graffiti artist greet people on their journey and become a part of their adventures as they arrive at certain places, see a familiar name and say, "Dam, what the hell is he doing way out here???''. The mystery identity helps to fuel the curiosity that keeps people watching. They become known, all while employing creativity, while being a bit of an outlaw while, ironically, remaining unknown to the people that watch. They know the name tho. They all know the name.

Conversely, graffiti has also been a practice that has served as a major point of disappointment for some. When they get to these celebrated heights, they are now feeling a pressure to live up to the hype. You're a star now, so u gotta look like one. And that translates to the pressure of having things and looking fresh without fail. In Philly, it's almost expected that the top Graff writers are also get money boys. And in a lot of cases it's true. And those that can't rise to the occasion are left retreating into the anonymous world of drug abuse. It happens to the drug dealers too. Drug abuse is the perfect escape from the pressures of life, because, after all, it's not your fault you fell off. You were addicted to drugs. It's happened to a lot of the top players in the game. You come across them and sometimes they are embarrassed to tell u who they are because they see who you are and feel like that they should be better off in the game. Or sometimes it's the obvious disappointment in your eyes, when meeting your childhood hero, the guy you patterned this pursuit after, is a guy who wears the same drawls for a week, shoots heroin and maybe does somethin strange for some change. The disappointment they see in your eyes when you meet helps to push them further into retreat.

Regardless of what goes on in the swamps, the reception halls tell a different story of people finding fame and fortune in the world of high art, earning magnificent fortunes from an art form they found in the gutter. For those that used it to improve their condition, I salute you. I salute all poor people who have used this culture to change their lot in life. What better use for culture can there be? The beautiful thing is that graffiti STILL has the same utility deep down in the slums, in the underbelly of the city's subways systems and train yards, as it does in MOCA or the various art galleries across the world that embrace it. It still holds the same basic premise; you must be excellent to excel at it. You must be persistent to be recognized. It is the only pillar of hip hop that still requires individual excellence in order to be celebrated.

Happy Birthday graffiti. Thank you for all you've given to me and to my homeboys both dead and alive, those fallen soldiers in the war against their current circumstance, those who set out to make the world recognize them. Thank you for providing a vehicle for the road to success. You are truly a crime of passion.


Yo, just wanna say, I've been reading, low key lurking and enjoying BBC for years (at least 5 or 6 years now?). As someone that's been down since The Message came out on vinyl you guys come with The Real Shit every time. Props. Much Love from Philly.

Thank you Zero Game! we try to bring the most interesting and authentic shit to the forefront. Glad u mess with us. Keep coming back and keep commenting. we love hearing from you.


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